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Primeval man found himself in a hazardous and hostile world; the anxiety of wild creatures, of not being able to find food, or disease, and of natural occurrences, like thunder, lightning and volcanoes was continuously with him.
This article analyzes how and why cruelty and clemency influence the legitimacy of the government of democratic countries and autocratic countries differently, from the perspective of the establishment of power. The major differences between democratic countries and autocratic countries give rise to the diverse preferable government systems of modern democratic and autocratic countries.
It is not too much to say that most princes want to establish their images as merciful and august throughout the history. Nevertheless, mercy does not come hand in hand with respect naturally. Machiavelli argues that leaders should overlook ethics, acting in a way so that he can be feared rather than loved. Ideally, establishing the power on his own will, the prince can be more powerful compared with those who bargain men’s loving. Seen under this light, when absolute fear is imposed, the prince power is maximized.
In diverse modern society, however, this understanding is no longer universal. Admittedly, in autocratic countries like China, Singapore and some middle-east countries, the governments should adhere to – and always have adhered to Machiavelli’s “better feared than loved” principle when there is only one option in a bid to national security, public interest and hence their own legitimacy.
Quite the contrary, in democratic countries like the US and western Europe, widespread discontent can easily overthrow the governments in a lawful way. （The Constitution of the United States of America，1787）
Also, the line between fear and hatred is rather blurred. The princes of democratic countries must meticulously scrutinize policies, making sure that people can tolerate them.
Through an in-depth comparative study, this paper attempts to determine to what extent Machiavelli’s understanding of power is still applicable to modern societies including democratic countries and autocratic countries. I will try to answer the following questions: How the government policies influence people’s support in countries of different democracy levels? How does people’s support determine people’s movements diversely regarding democracy level? And how people’s movement impact the legitimacy or power of the government. First, let me describe the relation between impacts of government policies on people’s support and level of democracy.
People’s policy-based support and Democracy Level
Government’s erroneous policies’ impacts on people’s support are in proportion to democracy level of that country/region. In another word, if the government behaves so that people fear, people’s support declines more in democratic countries than in autocratic countries owing to variance in terms of freedom of press and people’s tolerance.
As is seen in the figure（see appendix 1）, countries with more freedom of speech are mostly democratic countries. In these countries, people take free press for granted and various sources of information always ensure people’s right to learn the truth. In this occasion, people’s emotion can be aroused easily, be it positive or negative towards government behavior. If government behave so that triggers people’s fear, the discontent of people will soon widespread the whole nation with various media platforms. In the US, for instance, unarmed young black men were shot dead by a white officer in Louisiana and Minnesota in 2016, respectively, arousing a series of nationwide protests, the most well-known one being the protest in Dallas on July 7, 2016. In comparison with the US, Chinese people always fail to react in nationwide scale in respond to government’s uneasy local behaviors. Zhao Lianhai, a Chinese dissident and former food safety worker who became an activist for parents of children harmed during the 2008 Chinese milk scandal was sentenced to 2.5-year imprisonment for “disrupting social order” Even though there was certain coverage of that verdict by Chinese media, yet the news reports are brief and deleted soon after few days. Public figures who spoke for Zhao in social media soon have their posts deleted by the government and the whole issue remains unknown by most Chinese people living inside the “Internet Great Wall”. Two above-mentioned issues share one common feature, which is an infringement of personal interests by the government; but two cases result in totally different social responses due to the different levels of freedom of the press. Given that democracy level is in proportion to freedom of the press, we draw a conclusion: the more democratic a country is, the more people’s fear towards government widespread.
Another factor is people’s tolerance towards government’s fear-triggering policy. East or west, government surveillance on personal information is what people fear This fact is well illustrated by people’s reaction towards Edward Snowden’s 2013 global surveillance disclosure.
In my research, I interviewed a group of 30 Chinese people of all age groups and a group of 30 people of western countries of all age groups using stratified sampling. There was only 1 question asked: to what extent do you tolerate government surveillance on your personal information? Two exclusive options are “strongly oppose” and “not strongly oppose”. The result I get is shown in the diagram below:
Not strongly oppose
People of China
People of Western countries
Null hypothesis 1: Chinese people have equal tolerance towards government’s surveillance on personal information with that of people of western countries.
After constructing a binomial probability distribution (see appendix 2), we reject the null hypothesis 1, accepting that Chinese people have more tolerance towards government’s surveillance on personal information than people of western countries with a 95% confidence level. In this context, people’s discontent towards government varies due to their tolerance towards governments’ fear-triggering policies. That people of autocratic countries endure fear more than those of democratic countries renders it more difficult for fear to escalate into hatred in autocratic countries.
In a nutshell, the more democratic a country is, the more people’s fear towards government widespread and the more likely fear escalates into hatred that jeopardizes government’s legitimacy (Machiavelli, 1532). But can support deficiency or hatred necessarily give rise to people’s movements against the prince, or government? I will discuss it in the next part.
People’s support-based movement and democracy level
It is very likely that accumulated fear may reach the threshold of hatred depending on people’s endurance, and when hatred is achieved, on the horizon will be determined movement by people. Hatred-triggering and hence movement-triggering thresholds are correlated to the democracy level of that country. In democratic countries/regions like Hong Kong (here I still refer to Hong Kong as democratic due to its right of speech etc. except for universal suffrage) people easily convert their discontent into protests and demonstrations, hazarding government’s legitimacy; whereas in autocratic nations like China where there is no guarantee for freedom of assembly people can hardly turn their emotions into deeds. This is mainly due to the variances in civil rights (i.e. the right of speech and assembly).
Civil rights in mainland China and Hong Kong are though both constitutional yet differently demonstrated. Take the right of assembly. Public order event statistics is recorded officially in Hong Kong and the US and other democratic countries but is not disclosed by the Chinese government. In Hong Kong, thanks to the right of assembly, people’s involvement in public affairs retains a high level. The failure of legislation of the Basic Law Article 23 due to 500 thousand-people demonstration successfully exemplified how people’s fear eventually converts into overwhelming movement. On the other hand, people in autocratic countries can barely resort to assembly or speech to counter government’s terrifying behaviors. Xinjiang authorities prohibited “extremist” attire and prohibited “activities that damage the physical and mental health of citizens.” In recent years, authorities have discouraged or even banned people from fasting during Ramadan. In March 2016, a court convicted 25 Uighurs of “endangering state security” for their participation in “illegal” religious studies which are private religious classes. An interview with an anonymous local Xinjiang student informed me that under the high-handed measure, however, people cannot protest to express their anger – mass assembly is strictly prohibited.
To conclude, people of democracy countries can more easily turn their support (or opposition) into deeds than those of autocracy.
Legitimacy under people’s movement and democracy level
The influence that people’s movement can exert on government’s legitimacy is highly correlated to the democracy level. In this part, I will compare China and US to determine the factor resulting in this fact.
Admittedly, the Chinese government has always imposed hard power on its people regarding protests, rebellions and demonstrations. In autocratic countries like China, it takes more painstaking to topple the government due to the lack of a lawful way to impeach government. People can generally only resort to revolution to alternate the regime. Their attempt to initiate revolution is always in vain. Suppression of Tian’An Men Incident in 1989, Tibet unrest in 2008, riots in Urumqi in 2009… To name but a few. Utilizing harsh methods to nip revolution in the bud, China government as a representative of autocracy has done a perfect job.
Nevertheless, as the democracy concept becomes more popular, there is a current trend for the Chinese government to utilize smart power to stabilize its legitimacy to avoid following the step of its middle-east counterpart. In Wukan protests, the most large-scale protest in recent years, though the government arrested some villagers in the beginning, still the local government conceded by admitting the status of “Wukan villager representative temporary Council” and not prosecuting villagers who overreacted. In the end, the whole mass incident was peacefully addressed and no menace was posed to the local or central government.
Alternatively, to impeach the prince of a democratic country is much less painstaking. Government “of the people, by the people and for the people” is a long established common sense in these countries. In the UK, David Cameron resigned when his opinion emerges contrary to the referendum. In South Korea, president Park Geun Hye was impeached by the congress constitutionally mainly due to the pressure from people. In the democratic system, the check and balance system always enable the people to disqualify the prince, be it automatic (voluntary resign) or manually (congressional impeachment). People’s movement legally and naturally transits regimes in democratic countries.
In general, the influence on the legitimacy of government by the people’s movement varies according to the level of democracy due to the availability of constitutional means to check and balance. Notwithstanding the conservative middle-east dictatorship, most wise princes in other autocratic countries utilize smart power more and more shrewdly to evade revolution, rendering people’s movement impotent when countering government’s legitimacy and leadership.
By comparing autocratic countries and democratic countries (see appendix 3), we draw a conclusion that in modern societies the princes of democratic countries should scrutinize their policies scrupulously, sparing no effort not to let their people fear since fear can soon be elevated into hatred, triggering unstoppable movements jeopardizing legitimacy and leadership of government; whereas princes of autocratic countries can retain their fear-triggering behavior to maximize their leadership (as discussed in Introduction) as long as they use smart power in due course to tackle some thorny issues inspired by democracy value. The major limitation of this research is that the comparison is mainly preset between China and western countries. Admittedly China is a successful autocratic example and epitomizes the common properties shared by dictatorship, yet other unsuccessful autocratic countries’ cases are omitted. This may render my research liable to the inclination to a certain conclusion. Appendix 1 Freedom of Press and Democracy Level Appendix 2 Binomial Probability Distribution of People’s Standpoint in the Wake of Government’s Surveillance Appendix 3 The Logical Chain between Government’s Policies/Behaviors and Legitimacy Leadership and Power of the Government
|link comment||answered Mar 09 at 13:58 LAO Annan New member|
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